A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2018.
While most of South Africa has been glued to our news websites waiting for that One Big Announcement, a couple of other outrageous news items have grabbed headlines this week. Twice, I’ve seen stories being repeated in my news feed and thought, “Wait, what? Surely that’s fake news.” Only to learn it wasn’t.
The first bit of WTF news has been Katie Hopkins’s visit to South Africa. Hopkins, who is described as a “media personality” in the UK is known for her inflammatory far-right, anti-immigrant views. It seems that she has reached peak troll in her home country, so how she’s come to South Africa to spread sensational hatred here.
Her mission, purportedly, is to create a documentary about the “cleansing of Afrikaans farmers” in this country. This topic is a South African hot button – which is certainly why she chose it – and claims of a genocide have largely been debunked.
Hopkins herself has a long history of playing fast and loose with the truth. She was fired for calling for a genocide of her own after the Manchester Arena Bombing. She’s had to sell her home to pay £150 000 to a Muslim family after she falsely accused them of having extremist links. And she’s had various other job losses and damages claims against her as the result of false accusations and defamatory remarks.
So she’s not exactly the person I would want on my side if I were trying to build a case based on facts and reason. Nonetheless, along she came and rubbed shoulders with Steve Hofmeyr. This was the first bit of news I saw about her visit. I thought it was a photoshopped image. Then we had reports of her ketamine-related collapse (she takes the drug legally for a shoulder injury). At this point I began to accept that she was really here, although WTF?
She publicly thanked our emergency services (the medical ones – she’s claiming our police are colluding in farm murders). Then, on departure, she claims she was detained at the airport, that her passport was confiscated and that she was put on the V list (which I’ve learnt is our undesirable persons list) for spreading racial hatred.
The South African Police have subsequently claimed she wasn’t detained, so who knows, really? Could it be that she’s trying to create intrigue around her farm killings documentary? An upstanding journalist like herself? You decide…
So Katie Hopkins’s manic tour of South Africa was the one bit of fake news that turned out to be true this week.
A second story that had me doing a double-take was that Elon Musk had launched a car into space. My sequence of reactions was something like, “What? Really? An actual car? WHY? Google…”
The responses, in order, are: “Elon Musk did indeed launch a Tesla roadster into space. Yes, really. Yes, an actual car. And, as far as I can make out, it was a test of the launch capabilities of Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s reusable super-heavy lift-launch vehicle.”
Photos that initially seemed like proper fake news turned out to be real and there is now, genuinely, a car in space. What a time to be alive.
One opinion piece in the midst of all this wonder really stuck in my craw. In the Guardian, Nathan Robinson claimed that Musk, as a billionaire, shouldn’t be catapulting expensive cars into space when there are children dying in Syria. As far as I am concerned, this is a hugely erroneous false equivalence (not that I don’t abhor the deaths of children in Syria – or people murdered on farms for that matter).
View from SpaceX Launch Control. Apparently, there is a car in orbit around Earth. pic.twitter.com/QljN2VnL1O— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 6, 2018
The world needs science and progress – and Musk is making a pretty significant contribution to both. Robinson asks why he should be doing this when a child dies of malaria every two minutes. But do you know who’s pretty instrumental in the fight against malaria? Bill Gates, another really rich guy.
Musk himself is throwing his philanthropic funds behind paediatric research and renewable energy among others – simply put, to donate money to worthy causes, like malaria, you have to be making money in the first place. And in his own flashy way, that’s what Musk was doing this week.
The fact that we can put heavy objects into deep space is a useful piece of scientific knowledge – a possible step towards mining water from asteroids in the distant future. And since a Tesla roadster is a heavy object that Musk just happens to have lying around, why shouldn’t he send one hurtling towards Mars?
These are the kinds of thoughts I’ve been having this week courtesy of news-that-isn’t-fake. It’s all a worthy distraction while we wait around for that other bit of news. You know the one… the news that, no matter how hard we anticipate it, never actually makes headlines.